Directed By: John Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges
Iron Man is the first in house produced film from Marvel Studios and I have to admit I was worried. Just because you’re a company that knows how to create fantastic comic books doesn’t mean you understand how to make great movies.
As the film started coming together the one thing I did realize that Marvel had right was their choice of director in John Favreau. Favreau hasn’t done a film like this up to now in his career but he has shown more than once that he’s a comic book super fan, which is one thing you want in a director of a film like Iron Man. The other thing you want is a director that understands how to make a good movie, not just how to do action scenes. To make a film of any kind rise to the top there has to be great drama and character development. Favreau has proven time and time again that he gets that part of filmmaking. He then proved that he had a real grasp on the character of Tony Stark (the man behind the mask) when he and producer Avi Arad cast Robert Downey Jr. in the part.The top tear casting continues with Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s long time assistant and Terrence Howard as Stark’s friend and military liaison. Both of these characters get some solid lines in the film but it’s obvious that Marvel Studios is planning multiple films if they are willing to pay the big bucks for this ensemble. Terrence Howard will definitely be getting more to do in future sequels.
This film is essentially the Iron Man origin story, which is frustrating to me and other comic book fans. We’ve heard this story over and over again in various reboots of the character over the years so even with the modernization of the story that goes on in this film pretty much the entire first half of the film is a story that we are intimately familiar with. With that sais though, the origin story is required for the mainstream audience, so we begrudgingly understand why this story is the one that’s being told.
What is most impressive here, other than the kick ass Iron Man suit and special effects, is how many seeds are planted for Tony Stark’s evolution as a character. Comic book fans will see these seeds while mainstream fans may just see them as character details. For example, in nearly every scene that Tony can drink, he does, setting the stage for future alcoholism. There’s also a more ham fisted Rhodey (Howard) reference to his future adventures. Perhaps my favorite reference to future storylines is the name of the terrorist group in the film; the Ten Rings. There’s definitely be more about this group and its leader in future films.
Downey owns this movie playing on his own charisma and slick and clever attitudes to deliver some great lines. As I mentioned Earlier Paltrow doesn’t have as much to do in the film as Downey but she is excellent in the role and the chemistry between her and Downey is spot on. She also gets a couple of scene stealing lines.
The back-story involves Stark being the owner of one of the largest arms builders in the world, providing weapons to the highest bidder. He is kidnapped by terrorists who want him to build a weapon for them. He instead builds the first prototype of the Iron Man suit and fights his way to freedom. Stark begins to realize the harm that he was doing to the world and via the new suit he sees a new destiny for himself and his company. Of course his partner in the company does not support this new direction, and neither do the stock holders, offering another hint at potential future story arcs that could be taken right from the comics.
There’s a good bit of humor in this film, a bit more than was ever in the Iron Man comics actually, but it comes off great in the film, adding some dynamic range to the film and making it more palpable to mainstream fans. Most of the humor comes from some of Stark’s lines or from the sequences where he is building his new armor in his lab. These scenes also lead into the action of the film. The action scenes are good but not the best we’ve seen in a super hero film. That award still goes to the Spider-man films but the action in Iron Man is better executed than that in the Fantastic Four films and the X-Men films. In fact the final villain fight is fun but anticlimactic. This isn’t that uncommon for an origin story though. The first Spider-man film was the worst of the three for action, and it’s because most of the film was spent with Peter trying to learn his abilities and really finally using them in the last few minutes. So this ends up actually being a super hero movie formula. The scenes are a lot of fun though and probably won’t disappoint most moviegoers. The scenes just got me even more excited for a sequel.
The modernization of the Tony Stark origin story is pretty great in this film. It’s surprising just how little had to be changed from the original story to update it for film. I’d maybe have enjoyed a bit of political commentary built into the character and there’s room to argue that there is some commentary in the film but I don’t think the writers were going for depth in that direction for the movie. Iron Man is supposed to be a fun summer flick and in that it succeeds phenomenally. By saying that I don’t mean that Iron Man is a dumb popcorn flick because it definitely is not. The film just chooses to focus on relationships and real character rather than injecting the film with some sociopolitical commentary.
The running time is really the only real problem with the film. At over two hours the starts to drag just a bit in the middle. There’s probably 10 to 15 minutes that could have been trimmed in the middle of the film in order to allow the film to maintain a more steady pace. Spider-man 1 & 2 set the bar pretty high for super hero films and while Iron Man doesn’t surpass those films it’s easily right behind them on my list of greatest super hero films of all time.